I have a ten-question quiz for you. There are no grades. By the way, I have taken this quiz myself and scored zero for ten. These ten questions deal with opportunities within walking distance of where you live.
Can you walk to the grocery store?
Can you walk to the library?
Can you walk to a movie theatre?
Can you walk to the beach?
Can you walk to the local farmer’s market?
Can you walk to the post office?
Can you walk for a morning cup of coffee and sit outside in winter?
Can you walk to fast food (e.g. Taco Bell or Subway)?
Can you walk to upscale restaurants (e.g. Slye’s in Carpinteria where Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi went for their anniversary dinner last month)?
Can you walk to a state park?
You must be thinking, I don’t live in Mayberry, Dan!
Even so, how did you do?
Many of us live where not one of these is an option. If you have ever been to our place out on Chases Pond Road in York, Maine, you know that though we live in one version of paradise, we do not have much chance to walk to anything but Chases Pond itself.
Ah, but Hannah and I have found a winter home-away-from-home in the walkable small town of Carpinteria, California; a mere ten miles to the south of Santa Barbara that checks all the boxes.
You might be thinking, lucky ducks.
Indeed, we are quite the fortunate waterfowl.
And by the way, there is a number eleven in this walkable town – we can walk the local oceanside trail to the harbor seal rookery. More often than not, each evening this past February, Hannah and I made the three-mile round trip to see the harbor seals during their birthing season.
From any of the local neighborhoods, we can jump on the coastline trail that is in sight of the sandy Carpinteria Beach and soon climbs above the cliffs of the Pacific. Once past the pier, we first see Harbor Seal Watch volunteers before we spot the seals themselves. Recording new births and total number of seals, the volunteers have street-size stop signs warning people away from the beach where the harbor seals lay.
Protected by federal law, the harbor seals are not to be disturbed by humans or animals. On one of our late afternoon visits, we saw a dog (coyote-like but it had a collar) come to the nesting area. Immediately, the seals and their pups, scared and shaken, flopped from their sandy beach into the waves and deeper water. The dog didn’t aggressively approach any seals and interestingly didn’t bother the one pup who couldn’t make it to the water. That pup was in the throes of dying as nature took its course.
To support the Federal Marine Mammal Act, the volunteers staff the cliff above the rookery from 7A to 7P, seven days a week for one 2-hour shift from December through May. Click here for more information about the Carpinteria Seal Watch.
Weighing in the range of 300 pounds, harbor seals mature in 4 to 7 years and live to a ripe old 40 years of age. When they dine, they prefer fish, squid, clams, and shellfish. Ranging from the Bering Sea in Alaska to Baja California in Mexico, the harbor seals come ashore in the rookery areas like this one, known as “haul outs.”
Every week, the local Carpinteria Coastal View News tabloid has a review of the past weeks news from the rookery. At the end of February as we are leaving California, there are 150 seals and 25 pups. They note 1200+ Visitors from across the country and the world, and no surprise that Maine is listed due to our many drop-ins. They list the Disturbances when harbor seals were chased into the ocean by a balloon, a jogger on the beach, a fishing boat, and a helicopter.
The review includes National History Notes. Carpinteria harbor seals typically give birth to a single pup between mid-February and mid-March. In the womb for eight to nine months, the pup at birth, usually on land, gushes out suddenly. Gulls are attracted to the scene, which is usually how volunteers and visitors know there has been a birth.
Twice Hannah and I were there minutes after a birth of a pup, which typically weighs 8 to 20 pounds. Perched high above the sandy beach, we could see the blood red of the afterbirth that the seagulls were clamoring for. Soon, after shooing away the gulls, mom nurses her pup, which she will do for six weeks. At that point, she leaves town and the pups have to fend for themselves. Talk about Dragon Mothers.
After checking out the latest pup counts, we return by way of the shoreline trail, through the Carpinteria State Park, popular with the RV and tenting crowd, and head home by way of the quarter mile state park boardwalk fifty feet from the high tide line.
As a latter-day Crabapple Cove (of Hawkeye Pierce of MASH fame), Carpinteria checks all the boxes for a walkable small town.